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Movie Review: ‘America’ by Dinesh D’Souza

America poster D'SouzaEmphasizing emotions over facts, the propellant and powerful America: Imagine the World Without Her, co-written and co-directed by conservative author Dinesh D’Souza, teems with a proper American sense of life. It is limited in its power, which strongly builds yet quickly dissipates, by what amounts to a faith in individualism. Evoking Ronald Reagan, D’Souza understands what it means to make use of facts and history in words and pictures and there are plenty of each in America. But this independent movie, which strikes a chord in this deeply wounded and crippled nation, is not a recreation of history. It is not a documentary. It is not a philosophical examination of the country for which it is named.

America is pure, potent propaganda. As such, it is relatively well done. Better than Sicko, or most conservative-themed movies, America, which I saw at a screening during the libertarian FreedomFest in Las Vegas, where I had the opportunity to meet Mr. D’Souza, grabs a hold on what’s meaningful about the United States and, in certain stories and segments, portrays an American sensibility. This is not to say everything depicted, with historical portrayals and reenactments, is merely superficial. Much of what’s here is compelling. Some of the tales and excerpts are thought-provoking. Everything is put together. Nevertheless, America amounts to an exercise in “what if…?”

It takes 15 minutes to get going, following a Revolutionary War setup, unmistakably themed to sacrifice, that undercuts the picture’s call to resistance. The five-part movie covers the American Revolution, the Civil War, World War 2 and what narrator D’Souza describes as the restoration, which very much in this perilous time remains to be realized (this is why it’s an emotional film for those who love the country). Beginning with images celebrating the Industrial Revolution, which the film never accounts for, America breaks down the basic case for Barack Obama as an American destroyer. This case is made with emotionally powerful symbols, such as the Lincoln and Jefferson memorials, the White House and Mount Rushmore, being visually erased as the argument against America is made with key interviews from leftist principals – Chomsky, multiculturalists and others – interviewed by D’Souza. Their points are represented, not laid out, and he deals with their points with relative clarity and even-handedness.

D’Souza is not exhaustive, however, and he doesn’t pretend he wants to be. He hasn’t a moment to spare, briskly moving along to relevant facts, points and counterpoints, and the audience will learn about black slaveowners (yes, you read that right), Frederick Douglass meeting Abraham Lincoln, New Left terrorist and college professor Bill Ayers, the selling of Manhattan by Indians, and one exceptional black entrepreneur. As the five-point case against America is made – racism is central – D’Souza convincingly illustrates with his excerpts, facts and visuals that Obama, Elizabeth Warren and other New Leftists seek not to remake America but to unmake America and by the evidence presented here and not presented here, the proposition is undeniable. He does so ploddingly, with a proper and searching tone, stating rightly that “if [Americans'] wealth is stolen [as leftists claim], then we must give it back.” D’Souza is a sincere advocate and he is also persuasive. After Texas Sen. Ted Cruz makes a brief appearance in a segment on the La Raza accusation that the U.S. seized Mexico’s territory, D’Souza asks “how many people in Mexico today wish the U.S. had kept all of Mexico?”

The “what if…?” theme plays across America, underpinning the entire experience, which is compiled of solid stories about great Americans such as Douglass, Lincoln and General George Washington among others, portrayed in bits by poorly cast actors who recreate certain excellent moments in U.S. history that counter leftist dogma time and again and build to a strong case for U.S. moral superiority, though D’Souza does not and would not put it that way. He relies instead on the conservative, which is to say Judeo-Christian, ethic that America is good because she helps others. Citing U.S. sacrifice in Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan and Germany, he correctly demonstrates that the U.S. acted in self-sacrifice, not self-interest, in each major war. He will not even cite as a side effect that the U.S. gained from any military action; we sacrifice property, oil and lives for the sake of others. Of course, this plays right into the leftists’ agenda, but D’Souza soldiers on in defense of capitalism – presumably because that, too, helps others – making a strong and effective and, exploiting his own ethnic origins in India, humorous case. The argument for the freedom that brought the industrial revolution is always mixed with selflessness, whether praised by Bono or faith-based Star Parker; by America‘s reckoning, capitalism only exists at the mercy of serving God (says Star Parker) and helping others.

But capitalism is good, D’Souza argues, with Bono making the most powerful speech – “wealth in the U.S. is not stolen – it’s created” – and he explains his case in everything from hamburgers to the iPhone. America assails ObamaCare, which is correctly accused of achieving what D’Souza calls a “masterful distortion and extortion” against the nation which gives the impression that Obama’s for us against insurance companies when, in fact, as the fascist scheme necessitates, ObamaCare is for crony insurers against us. That he cashes in by tracing ObamaCare’s origins to radical leftist Saul Alinsky, who influenced both Obama and would-be president Hillary Clinton, is mitigated only by his glossing over the fact that she was drawn into her leftist dogma by a Christian minister. America is thus enlightening, with fresh, relevant facts and a few surprising stings against the NSA and, by implication, conservatives who oppose whistleblower Edward Snowden, ending with a sweeping, tense and emotional roundup to assure the audience that the opponent of Obama who loves America for being good is not alone.

What constitutes the good, especially in an anti-Obama, anti-New Left propaganda picture featuring O.J. Simpson‘s lawyer Alan Dershowitz and Sens. Rand Paul and Ted Cruz, is left undefined or, worse, in service of the New Left’s moral premises. But this will not stop America from igniting passion for Americanism and making decent Americans feel good and that’s not nothing, which is what we get from the Nothing Man. Dinesh D’Souza has made a movie that makes good points for the U.S. and ends with images of Jesse Owens and Elvis Presley and this indicates that he gets what’s great about America, to paraphrase his hero, Ronald Reagan. But he does not define or explain America’s essential principles – not once does his America name individual rights or individualism as the nation’s founding ideal – and this keeps the movie firmly in the feel-good camp; no more, no less.

 

Movie Review: Atlas Shrugged, Part 3

ASP3WIJG posterAs I previewed last month, the new and final part of libertarian businessman John Aglialoro’s independent movie trilogy adaptation of Ayn Rand’s novel, Atlas Shrugged, features Christian libertarian ex-congressman Ron Paul of Texas. It’s a plot point that, however small, makes no dramatic sense. Like much of this movie, easily the worst of the three pictures, Ron Paul’s cameo both distracts from whatever remains of Rand’s philosophical theme and distorts the meaning of Atlas Shrugged.

Introduced by John Stossel, screened at this year’s libertarian FreedomFest in Las Vegas and opening in theaters nationwide this September, the film, Atlas Shrugged: Who is John Galt?, fundamentally changes Rand’s plot (stop reading this if you insist on seeing movies without any essential plot knowledge).

I’ll get right to the fact that Atlas Shrugged 3 gives Rand’s brilliant story a happy and, even on its terms, undeserved ending. With an awful cast (the emaciated actress playing Dagny this time misinterprets the character’s rationality as a blank slate) and forementioned transgressions peppered throughout the 90-plus minute picture, the movie pastes a news montage and begins in earnest with a poorly staged adaptation of the 20th Century Motor Company scene. Everyone looks like an actor and the extras overemote. They’re not alone. John Galt is portrayed by an actor who means well but is apparently directed to come off as a soap or soft core porn star. “This is John Galt speaking…” should be delivered with a blended sense of heart-skipping dread and anticipation, both crashing down and cashing in on the events preceding the great, momentous line. Here, it plays as a self-conscious voiceover. This is Galt as studmuffin, not as the man who invents – and stops – the motor of the world.

As depicted, Galt’s Gulch could double for a Hallmark Christmas movie, complete with luminaria, and Francisco d’Anconia, who is supposed to have grown up with Dagny, is played by an actor who appears to be old enough to be her grandfather. At least he projects competence. This Dagny is so vacuous she couldn’t run a rinse cycle let alone a transcontinental railroad. When she awakens after Part 2s plane crash in the Valley, the face with no fear, no pain and no guilt achingly portrayed in Rand’s poetic scene is nowhere to be found. Neither is Ayn Rand’s crucial line about never needing to take any of it seriously. There are only actors who resemble the Marlboro man (Ellis Wyatt), male model types in neatly trimmed facial hair (Ragnar) and Foster Grants (Galt) and lots of bugs around Hugh Akston. Somehow, Taggart Transcontinental, the best thing about Part 1, became the equivalent of a commuter rail line. Forget about making love on the train tracks, too.

It gets worse. With chants of “We Want Galt!” from the American public, the opposite of Rand’s point in the novel, which dramatized that the reader faces a fundamental philosophical choice, and cameos from Fox News personalities, Bitcoin and Glenn Beck, the central thesis that the power of the West is fading in proportion to enslavement of the man of ability is utterly trashed. In its place, without a single reference to altruism or self-sacrifice (on the contrary, Dagny silently sanctions sacrifice) is a bastardization (that is the word for this movie) of Atlas Shrugged as populism. With Eddie Willers saved, dispensing with another key point from the novel about what happens in such a collapse, and Cherryl’s life cruelly tossed aside as an afterthought – betraying what Rand’s philosophy holds as the ultimate value – the theme here is that libertarianism will save the world. Among the glaring inconsistencies and inversions are Dagny’s ever-changing hair from straight to permanent wave and back, clean-shaven villains and facial-haired heroes and, worst of all, Galt’s agonizing torture minimized in every sense; the counterpoint to Christ on the cross is reduced to a carefully posed and partially clothed actor making faces to special effects.

That it’s all dramatized in the style of a flat, boring cable movie where nodding off makes not a lick of difference seems to fit what has turned out to be an ill-conceived undertaking by a businessman who does not understand the novel. The proof of this comes straight from the businessman’s mouth. As Aglialoro told the premiere audience, he made this trilogy to “save America from government.” Herein lies the libertarian’s anti-intellectual error across the decades. Ayn Rand and Atlas Shrugged (and Rand’s philosophy, Objectivism) do not in any sense seek to save America from government. Atlas Shrugged dramatizes the heroic tale of a life lived large and, to the extent it’s about the collapse of the West, it’s about saving America from government control. Atlas Shrugged Part 3, as part of the libertarian’s counterfeit claim to Rand’s philosophy, totally fails to check its premises.

TV & DVD Review: ‘Path to Paradise’ (HBO)

PTP posterA story very much of its time, with indictments of individual liberty and with apologies for Islam, the made-for-cable Path to Paradise: The Untold Story of the World Trade Center Bombing is a capable account of what led to the February 26, 1993, Islamic terrorist attack on the Twin Towers before Moslem jihadists brought them down and mass murdered 3,000 people eight years later.

What’s unique about this picture, which premiered on premium cable channel Home Box Office (HBO) on June 14, 1997, is that it aired after the first major Islamic terrorist attack on the U.S. mainland though before the worst act of war in U.S. history. Both assaults were initiated by the same idea-driven fundamentalists and against the same primary target that would be forced by faith-based monsters to collapse on September 11, 2001. This provides an interesting window through which to examine HBO’s telefilm as a fact-based TV drama with enough time and distance from both strikes on the two towers.

As with almost every film about Islamic terrorist attacks ever made, Path to Paradise is bad on framing the enemy’s philosophy and better on recreating dramatic tension. Historians can see and judge for themselves, and there is a significant library of movies to study, that movies about acts of war by jihadists diminish the role of jihad – the Islamic faith’s tenet that life is an unending political struggle and one must wage war on the infidel – in direct proportion to the proliferation of the siege. For example, the earliest pictures about attacks on Americans on planes, ships and diplomatic missions explicitly name and identify, and often explore, Islam as the root of radical Moslem motive to strike down the infidel (anyone associated with the West). As recently as 1996, with Stuart Baird’s excellent Executive Decision starring Kurt Russell and Halle Berry, deeply religious Moslems are rightly depicted and named as seeking to destroy the West with catastrophic acts of war.

This is hardly the case anymore, and, as attacks get more catastrophic, references to Islamic terrorism shrink. The worst movies, such as Steven Spielberg’s Munich, imply that these acts of war are justified. Path to Paradise falls somewhere in between, neither ignoring and rationalizing jihad nor properly pegging Islam as the source for the worst modern acts of war. One Islamic character, based on an Egyptian who purportedly tried to warn the U.S. about the parking garage bombing of the Twin Towers, insists that Islam means peace.

Path to Paradise, which co-stars Marcia Gay Harden, is, as its title suggests, focused on what motivates Islamic terrorists to commit mass murder, which they did on that winter morning in lower Manhattan, blowing up a rented van, injuring 1,000 and killing six people. Here, Peter Gallagher (the film’s best asset and in one of the actor’s strongest performances) portrays FBI Special Agent John Anticlev recounting in retrospect how he and NYPD Detective Lou Napoli (Paul Guilfoyle), who were part of a joint task force on counterterrorism in the New York area, tried to catch and stop the Moslem radicals before they struck. After an assassin (Shaun Toub), who follows the commands of a blind jihadist sheik (Andreas Katsulas), murders a rabbi, it’s the good New York cops versus the bad and incompetent cops, who refuse to judge Islamic terrorist videos and writings – one translator dismisses the hateful, anti-American ideas as “Islamic poetry” – and the terrorists only fail to bring down the twin skyscrapers through their own errors. Aided by an Islamic bomber (Art Malik) who sails through U.S. immigration despite being in violation of the law, the terrorists come, go and attack as they please.

This leads the Gallagher character to conclude that freedom of religion is the problem, a barrier to stopping crime and acts of war. But Path to Paradise repeatedly demonstrates and dramatizes to the contrary in spite of itself, showing that a nation up to here in Big Government with layers and layers of controls and bureaucracies is at the mercy of those who follow rules. In an early pre-Mom role, actress Allison Janney appears as a policewoman who properly ridicules the incompetence of the federal government in fighting Islamic terrorism. So much of what’s depicted here, and this telefilm aired years after the 1993 attack, prefigures the government’s total dereliction of providing a national defense.

After the rabbi was gunned down by a jihadist, for instance, a government spokesman rushed to judgment and declared that there was “no indication at all” of a jihadist conspiracy, just like today’s government spokesmen do about Moslem attacks on the U.S. at Fort Hood, Boston and Benghazi. The police statement was made when evidence indicated that the opposite was true.

It’s tragic, too, that Marcia Gay Harden’s FBI agent deadpans to the informant that “the FBI doesn’t get to Libya much,” when he comes clean about the blind sheik’s jihadist plots in Africa (the Obama administration supposedly sent the FBI to Libya to investigate the 9/11/2012 attack on Americans at Benghazi). The reality that the plot to destroy the West and take over the world for barbarism is winning is undeniable as the informant talks about plans to remove Egyptian dictator and U.S. ally Hosni Mubarak. Like so much of what’s depicted in Path to Paradise, that happened months and years ago.

Nothing is so obvious, of course, as one watches this movie, as the fact that the Twin Towers would soon be downed and Islamic law would spread across the globe, gather power and topple country after country from Algeria to Iraq (now emerging as a new caliphate) as forecast by the lone voices against jihad who are deemed too harsh, extreme and pro-Western. Structured like a police procedural, the 90-minute Path to Paradise doesn’t get into the more detailed plot points, including what biological agent may have been prepared for or laced in the 1993 World Trade Center bomb, but it is an excellent example of what powers up the jihad and allows it to spread, fester and annihilate. In fact, unintentionally, the picture’s end credits punctuate the point that appeasement of jihad – the West’s refusal to name, identify and destroy state sponsors of Islamic terrorism – is ending America from within: a disclaimer as the towers still stand while the credits roll reads: “While based upon actual events, this film portrays the actions of a small group of individuals. It does not reflect the beliefs of the majority of Muslims and Arabs.”

How do the 1997 filmmakers know what they claim to know about the beliefs of most Arabs and Moslems? Blank out. Public opinion polls are not cited as evidence, not that polls are permitted in religious dictatorships that dominated the Arab world, then and more so now.

With the Arab world from Africa to Asia disappearing into a barbaric caliphate rising against the West, that statement that most Moslems are peaceful cannot be accepted as true. The towers are destroyed. The Pentagon has been attacked. The rights of the individual are under siege from an omnipotent American state rising in proportion to the rise of jihad and not a single counterrevolution against Islamism has taken root in the Arab world.

Path to Paradise despite the drawbacks provides an account of how the looming empty spaces and spreading darkness came to be.

Movie Review: Snowpiercer

Snowpiercer posterA small foreign film about an onboard rebellion against an eco-Stalinist dictatorship, Snowpiercer, marks the English-language debut of South Korean writer and director Bong Joon-ho.

If this sounds strange, it’s because this dystopian movie takes place on a perpetual motion locomotive. Snowpiercer concerns the aftermath of a failed experiment to stop global warming that instead causes an ice age and nearly destroys human life on earth. But don’t take that too seriously. Amid the layering of multiple political themes, there’s also a hodgepodge of Nietzsche’s ideas, anti-industrialism and warnings against deification of the dictator and treating technology and ecology as a religion. Add a severe matriarchy, with Tilda Swinton as a toothy fascist in charge of keeping people down on the train, and a visual style of German expressionism and you’ll start to get the picture, which is distinctly anti-environmentalist (the dictatorship obsesses about “sustainability” and population control, key tenets of the eco-faith). But know that Snowpiercer is purposefully vague in order to garnish its stylized filth, rot and graphic violence (I take it as a dramatization of rationalism).

“We control the engine, we control the world,” goes the line from dictatorship to the poor, weak, oppressed dictated, led by Chris Evans (Captain America) as Curtis, who is mentored by John Hurt (V for Vendetta) and accompanied by Jamie Bell (Billy Elliot). The cast, which includes Octavia Spencer (The Help) as a mother, is good, though it’s hard to stand out in the grime as they revolt against government rationing and brutal kidnappings of lower class children. As the rebels make their way through the train, rocking as various external forces affect the ride, thinning the herd and learning more about the nature of what lies ahead, the action fires up again and again. Blood spurts, often in slow motion.

Evans is excellent as always. Bell is also especially focused in his performance. Spencer makes an impression, too – so do Song Kang-ho and Go Ah-sung as a father-daughter pair of drug addicts – and Allison Pill as a teacher is effective in depicting a character that recalls today’s public, which is to say government-controlled, schools and she does so to the extreme. Swinton overacts as only she can, evoking her evil eat-little-children-as-a-snack glee in the Narnia movies.

The plot climaxes in a steam room, followed by a scene out of a West Hollywood street party. Only, wait, there’s more. Too much more and the film drags on too long as the audience waits for the reveal of what powers the train’s heavily and unquestioningly worshipped engine. All comes together in a logical if depleted way. Countermarketed against Transformers 4, with an ironic twist on MSNBC’s or Barack Obama’s theme (“we move forward”), Snowpiercer (based on a French graphic novel) rips, blasts, chops and even cajoles. It ends up as an interesting, if cold, bleak and fetishized, story about stopping the motor of what moves us backward.

Movie Review: A Long Way Down

ALWD posterSuicide is difficult to dramatize and I like the spirit of this ensemble movie’s thoughtful approach. Especially deft in his choice of facial expressions, moments and shots to linger and draw upon for emphasis of each character’s dilemma, director Pascal Chaumeil renders a very good film about four troubled lives on the verge of coming to a chosen end.

Based on the novel by Nick Hornby, A Long Way Down (available on demand and opening in theaters on July 11) stars Pierce Brosnan, Toni Collette, Aaron Paul and Imogen Poots as strangers who end up on the roof of a London building on New Year’s Eve, each with the intent of committing suicide. As each person’s plans to die in solitude are ruined, they mutually make a contract to temporarily delay suicide plans, forming an unconventional, dysfunctional family. It’s like The Wizard of Oz with each other’s support as the Emerald City.

In a sense, they’re each their own flawed man behind the curtain.

Characterizations and portrayals are well done. Brosnan and Collette give their usual best – this is probably Brosnan’s best screen performance since The Fourth Protocol – and Paul as J.J. the dark American musician and Poots as a foul-mouthed female wanting to be loved are perfectly cast. Each suicidal individual has depth, secrets and a reason to want to die.

Doesn’t everyone? This is the basic truth at the core of A Long Way Down, which dramatizes that, at its worst, living life is like facing the reality that it’s a long way down, whether one regards the bottom as realizing worst fears or facing a fiery pit of hell. The universality of suicide – I saw the film the day it was reported that an overzealous Tea Party activist who faced criminal charges had shot himself in Mississippi and that the Golden Gate Bridge would add a suicide net – is part of what lets the audience grant the dubious premise that four strangers might form such a pact around shared pain and the wish to terminate life.

This black comedy is not a clinical documentary and should not be judged as such – nor is it a serious examination of the right to die like The Sea Inside – and it is also not to be dismissed as a frothy escapade like Four Weddings and a Funeral with more extreme subject matter. There is much to appreciate here. Chaumeil has an ability to frame and move pictures to tell a story.

For instance, two birds in flight accentuate a crucial connection. Other symbolism enhances the film’s somber yet ascendant tone. A last, lighted cigar is brutally extinguished to set the scene that life can be hard and brutal. A lighted Christmas tree juxtaposes a transformative moment of joy for a self-made family. A store’s signage signals the dark and distorted world the suicidal human often inhabits.

The most prevalent image is the sun. It quietly rises in a new dawn and lights the way back to living. It bathes the face with a new vigor and, when the sun goes down, the fear of darkness envelops each character who struggles valiantly to reorder and remake life to their own special needs.

None of this is done with aspersions cast on those who choose to check out. Whatever each person’s form of private agony, the fact that this is a cruel world is not sugarcoated or glossed over. The desire to seek a permanent end to pain is never questioned. The decision to do so very much is.

There’s no point in disclosing what drives each character to want to die – or to stop wanting to die – as this is part of what makes A Long Way Down feel like a strong, satisfying journey that takes the audience a long way up, though its ending is too sentimental. Brosnan is outstanding as a TV personality gone wrong. He acts with his eyes, his face and especially his voice, conveying inner rage and the utter sense of despair that creeps into the soul and spreads too fast to catch it.

One character pleads that he wants for the foursome a world that’s a kinder place “to us and for us”. It’s the same character that names what makes it so hard to pull out of a downward spiral. Don’t mind the pain, comes the line in a breathtaking point in the picture, it’s the hope that gets you down.

A minor but pivotal character – a man of science, a doctor, if such a producer is possible under national health care – is the one to name with wisdom what it takes to get back up. It is poetic that the doctor – a voice of reason who heals and saves life – (and this doctor has a fascinating face) caps the climax of this thought-provoking, humorous and moving 96-minutes of self-recovery times four.